I distinctly remember the first time someone looked up to me for being a polygamist.
We had been invited by some polygamous friends to a Thanksgiving dinner that was attended by an eclectic group of fundamental Mormons (some were members of a sect of Mormonism, but many were independent). I knew almost no one there. (This was the first time I met Benjamin Shaffer, the attorney who purchased Drew Briney’s law firm when the Brineys moved away from Utah.) I was introduced to a married couple and I asked them if they were polygamists. The wife said, “No, not yet. I wish. Are you guys polygamists?” When I answered in the affirmative, she said with sincerity, “Oh, that’s so great. I hope I can be a plural wife someday.” (She’s a plural wife now and one of the best I know. As one example of how she’s so supportive: She has a huge picture of her husband and sisterwife on their wedding day on her living room wall.)
That was a very nice moment for me. Up to that point, people expressed many different feelings about my marital status, ranging from outright rejection to disgust to fascination to neutrality to supportive, but I had never met anyone who was actually jealous of me for being a polygamist.
I didn’t consider myself a fundamental Mormon, but after that Thanksgiving dinner I started to feel more and more comfortable hanging around Mormon fundamentalists because of their general belief that polygamy is acceptable, desirable, even preferred.
I still spend plenty of time with people who merely tolerate my polygamy. When I’m around those people, I will either hide my polygamy or at the very least I feel an overarching sense of embarrassment/shame about it, like the girl who keeps brushing her bangs in front of the zit on her forehead.
However, those feelings of shame or embarrassment are left over from when I cared what those people thought. I’m not ashamed to be a polygamist. I’m actually quite proud of my plural family and in particular of my husband. I’m proud of my husband for keeping two emotional women happy most of the time. I’m proud of him for financially supporting a large family. I’m proud of him for bearing the weight of a marred reputation caused by society’s feelings about plural marriage. I’m proud of him for always putting his family first and for being the most selfless person I have the privilege of knowing. I’m proud of him that God trusts him with such a great responsibility. I’m proud of him for keeping peace (and restoring it when it’s lost) between all the members of our family. I’m proud of him for his wisdom in difficult decisions. I’m proud of him for functioning on 2 hours of sleep when one of his wives needs to talk with him all night. I’m proud of him for never putting himself first but for always always serving God and his family and others around him. I’m proud of him for being stable when one or both of his wives are being crazy. I’m proud of Joshua for so many reasons. I think of him as a king and I feel it an honor to be married to him. I’m proud to be one of his queens.
The feeling of pride I have over our functional, beautiful plural family has grown and expanded almost imperceptibly until an event that happened yesterday. We went to a party for Joshua’s aunts, uncles, and cousins. This party is held annually, but it was our first time attending since becoming polygamists. We used to go every year (and to other events with these people as well), and Joshua and I have been married for 17 years, so I’ve known these people for a good long time.
The family is a pretty big group, I would say about 85 people, and almost all of them are active LDS. This is the kind of group I have historically felt awkward to be around. None of them are excited that we’re polygamists, and many of them openly disapprove (even writing letters and making phone calls to make sure we know how they feel).
And yet, yesterday when we walked into the party, I held my head high. I felt like a queen. I look at Joshua as a king and Melissa as a queen, and yesterday I felt no shame or embarrassment whatsoever. I greeted everyone with a confident hug and just acted like my old pre-polygamy self. If anyone felt awkward, it wasn’t me. If anyone wished I wasn’t there, it wasn’t me. I didn’t feel like I was inferior to any of the monogamists in the room. I didn’t feel like I had anything to apologize for. I didn’t feel like I had a zit on my forehead I was trying to hide. I just felt proud of my plural family and proud of my kingly husband. It was a wonderful experience and certainly made me feel as tho I have progressed in my journey as a plural wife.
I watch every episode of Seeking Sister Wife, but I still haven’t gotten around to watching Sister Wives. My friend texted me this evening and told me she saw us on the Sister Wives episode that showed Mitch and Aspyn’s wedding, so I figured I should write about it. One of these days I’ll probably sit down and watch the episode.
The invitation had a cool wax seal with the letter “T” on it (for Thompson). I was interested to see that the bride’s name was “Aspyn Kristine Brown.” I wonder what the story is behind the middle name. I suppose her mom, Christine, wanted to name her daughter after herself, but without spelling it the same?
I was surprised to realize the reception was on Father’s Day; that seems like such a strange day for a wedding. But later I was told that the venue they wanted to rent for the reception was booked solid except for Father’s Day, so they went with it.
My sister got married on her birthday. That seems even stranger than getting married on Father’s Day. But it’s a bummer for my sister now that she’s divorced. C’est la vie.
Interestingly enough, a polygamous husband in one of the reality TV shows was married to one of his wives on her birthday, and they are also now divorced. You’re not going to believe this, but not only were both my sister and my friend married on their birthday, but they also have their birthdays on the same day! Weird! Don’t get married on your birthday, especially if your birthday is June 19th!
We know the Browns as well as Mitch. We also know all of Mitch’s siblings, including Vanessa Alldredge from Seeking Sister Wife (she actually stayed at our house when they were in town for the wedding). Half of Mitch’s siblings are polygamists and half are not. He’s the tie-breaker to tip the scale towards monogamy.
We have attended other events that were being filmed for reality TV. One of them was an event for the Briney family from the first season of Seeking Sister Wife. The event was a Meet ‘n’ Greet for Lenny, the newborn baby of Drew Briney’s third wife Angela. We were required to meet TLC employees in a parking lot a mile away from the Brineys’ house, sign a contract, and get our photos taken, before being allowed in the car that would shuttle us to the actual site. I don’t remember what the paperwork said, altho I did take a picture of it so I could go back and reread it if I ever wanted to. I remember it was several pages and after I signed it I had to hold it in front of my body while the network took a photo of me, mug shot style. (The Meet ‘n’ Greet never aired, presumably because the Briney family provided enough other drama that the footage wasn’t needed. Angela told me she was disappointed that TLC focused so much on the bad stuff instead of showing one of the beautiful themes available to them: the miracle of Lenny’s conception; the footage of his birth; the visit of his namesake, Angela’s father; and his Meet ‘n’ Greet.)
One of the things I remember from Lenny’s Meet ‘n’ Greet was that we arrived, put our gifts in the designated spot, talked to people, went inside the house, used the bathroom, chatted with Drew’s mom, asked if any help was needed with the food, etc., all before any filming took place. Then, when the film crew was finally ready, and more than an hour after the event was scheduled to begin, all the guests had to “leave” the party and then enter again, on camera this time, as if we had just arrived. That part felt fake, for sure. But most of the event felt normal, besides being surrounded by cameras, microphones, and film crew. Joshua was asked to give the opening prayer. We sat at the table with Jeff Alldredge’s daughter. If I remember right, at that point TLC wasn’t open about the Alldredges knowing the Brineys, it was hush-hush, and Jeff’s daughter wasn’t allowed to show her face in the Alldredge scenes because she had been filmed in the Briney parts of the show. In fact, the Alldredges weren’t even allowed to attend the Meet ‘n’ Greet, despite their being very close to Angela Briney. (As an example of how good of friends they are, I’ll tell you, I went to visit Angela when Lenny was less than a week old. As I pulled up to the house Angela shared with April Briney, the Alldredges came out and walked to their truck. I asked them, “Oh, did you come to meet the new baby?” and they answered that this wasn’t their first visit, that they’d already been to visit Angela several times since Lenny was born.) After Seeking Sister Wife aired for the first time, of course it came out that the Brineys and Alldredges know each other, and the control TLC tried to have over the families seemed extra ridiculous.
Anyway, back to the wedding reception. I was expecting the same level of red tape at Mitch and Aspyn’s wedding reception that we had to go thru at the Lenny Briney’s Meet ‘n’ Greet, but I was disappointed. I actually had intended to take pictures of the contract and compare it to the earlier one. The invitation to the Briney event warned us that it was going to be filmed for reality TV; the invitation to the Brown event did the same. But when we showed up to the wedding reception, we weren’t asked to sign any contracts, and I don’t remember seeing any signs posted, except for this small sign I noticed by the entrance as we were leaving:
When we arrived at the wedding reception, we paid $6 for the required valet parking and walked around the outside of the building. There’s a vineyard, so since we’re interested in wine (we make our own sacramental wine, and we even teach wine-making classes) we took our time looking at the grape vines.
Actually, while I’m on the subject of wine-making, I will take another detour to the Brineys and Alldredges. We like to take credit for Angela marrying Drew Briney because of the events surrounding how they met. We were teaching a wine class at the Alldredges’ house and the Brineys and Angela were also in attendance, and that was how they met. They were married soon afterwards. I didn’t know they had gotten married because it happened so quickly. (A few months later they had a wedding reception we attended.) My close friend April Briney kept texting me, asking if she could come visit me. I repeatedly turned her down because I was so morning sick that I couldn’t take any visitors. At some point I ran into the Alldredges and asked about Angela. They told me she had news and I should ask her myself, so I texted Angela, and that’s how I found out she had married Drew. I feel terrible because April had wanted to tell me herself but I never gave her the opportunity. I think in Angela’s Year of Polygamy podcast interview, she said she met Drew “at a fireside.” Well, that “fireside” was our wine-making class. 😊
And while I’m on the subject of husbands meeting future wives, I will mention that Jeff Alldredge met Vanessa at an event at Kody Brown’s house in Utah, which is now my house. Oh, those polygamists all seem to be connected somehow, don’t they?
Okay. Back to Mitch and Aspyn’s party. It’s always fun to go to a party where the polygamists outnumber the monogamists. I don’t know if the wedding reception fit that description, but there were a lot of polygamists at Aspyn and Mitch’s wedding reception. We visited with friends and had refreshments.
Once it was time to sit down for the program (dancing, cake-cutting, etc.), we sat pretty close to the front. I suppose that’s why my friend was able to see us on the screen. It’s probably the kind of thing where you don’t really notice anyone in the background unless you’re specifically looking for them.
I gotta say, the most disappointing thing of the night was that there wasn’t an open bar. I figured since TLC was filming it, they were also paying for the wedding, and since it was at an expensive venue, the budget was generous. Therefore, I optimistically hoped for an open bar. Alas, there was a bar, but it was not open. The three of us each had a single glass of wine (a wedding is a sacrament, after all) and the bill was $26.
However, what was lacking in the drinks category was made up for in the dessert category. My sisterwife Melissa is known for her baking, and she said the cake served at Mitch and Aspyn’s wedding reception was the best cake she’s ever eaten. Was there an earlier Sister Wives episode that showed a cake-tasting? Whoever picked this one is the winner. They had other refreshments besides the cake. I’m not really into desserts so I couldn’t tell you, but both my baker-in-the-making daughter and my sisterwife Melissa could probably tell you lots of details if you cared to ask them. They at least had s’mores, as shown in the photo below.
If you watch the episode closely I’m sure you’ll be able to see lots of familiar faces from Seeking Sister Wife. Among the photos I took are some blurry photos of Jeff and Vanessa Alldredge, and here’s a not-quite-as-blurry photo I took of their son making s’mores over a candle:
Here are some of the photos I took from my front-row seat. I suppose these are nothing new to those of you who have actually seen the episode.
I was told that Mitch’s mom (shown in the photo above) made all the beautiful hats for the wedding.
The morning after the wedding reception we left to go on our annual weeklong backpacking trip. Good times.
Mitch is a great guy and Aspyn is a fantastic match for him. I’m so glad they found each other and I think they make a beautiful couple.
Want to help the Briney Family? Being cut from the show was an unexpected financial hit for them all.
Buy a book from Drew. He is a prolific author and has several titles including both fiction and non-fiction. You can see his selection here. You’re almost sure to find something there that interests you; if not, then his books would make great gifts for friends, family, and neighbors. Someone you know is bound to be interested in either dragons or Mormon fundamentalism (or both), right? He’s coming out with more books all the time.
Or, if you or someone you know has a new child, or is expecting one, then consider Angela’s new store, Lenny & Me. They have some very high quality items. My personal favorites are the books. They are amazing! They are indestructible! Ok, scissors or matches could probably do the trick, but they are impervious to chewing or tearing pages (something my current toddler is extremely proficient at). They put old fashioned board books to shame!
And, if you are in Utah, you should consider coming to April’s “Paint Night”. You can read about it on Facebook or Instagram. She only has a few slots, but who knows, if there is enough interest, she might schedule another one of these soon. She is an amazing artist (we have one of her pieces) and teacher as well. The opportunity is yours to have a personal lesson from April. And if you can’t make it to the paint night for whatever reason, but are interested in April’s artwork, then check out her Instagram page. She sells her art, and if she doesn’t have what you are looking for you can commission her to create the art you want (new baby portrait, wedding day, Grandparents 60th wedding anniversary, whatever).
I suppose all the viewers have realized by now that the Briney family is not returning for the second season of Seeking Sister Wife, and I just wanted to say a few words about that. Of course, as a polygamist myself, I will have a somewhat different view on things than most others.
Different people will want different things from a show about polygamy. Some will want simple entertainment; the novelty of seeing a glimpse into the lives of real-life polygamous families is in itself a compelling reason to watch. Others might find it educational. They might be interested in how a polygamous family works, how do they manage their time, raise their children, what are their living arrangements like, sleeping schedules, etc. Others will look forward to seeing drama and bickering. The misery of others can be cruel sport. There will even be some who watch with hopes of seeing plural families fail in a public way. This will add further justification to their negative views and stereotypes relating to polygamy, and fuel their support of (and efforts to reinforce) political, social, and legal barriers to those families. As for myself and the rest of the polygamy community, I think we all hope that shows like this will be good publicity, good PR, and will generally show the positive, functional, and healthy side of this kind of family. We hope that they will help to change the largely negative public perception of plural families. Yes, every family, indeed every individual, has problems and struggles, but last season of Seeking Sister Wife was, frankly speaking, a disappointing train wreck.
This is not all the fault of the Brineys, of course, but I know they have a similar feeling about their own showing last season. Here are some quotes about it from their family blog, The Briney Family.
I see bitter bickering and failure to abide by basic Christian principles that leaves me feeling inexpressibly sad and extremely regretful that we, as a family, set such a bad example of our lifestyle on national tv. Worst. Disappointment. Of. My. Life. – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
I’m truly heartbroken we’ve set such a bad example of our lifestyle that we fed that culture to whatever degree we did. – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
As a family (including April), we were all devastated at how poorly our family represented our Mormon fundamentalist friends and peers. We’d hoped to show how most polygamist families were normal, good people. – Drew (April’s Apology regarding Season 1)
April herself has told my wives and me in person that she has regret about the way things turned out on the show. Before anyone thinks I am picking on the Briney family, I want to say also that the family represented on TV was not a representation of their usual family life! The Brineys are also in agreement with this point.
These types of viewers notice that we’re “real” because we allowed ourselves to show our bad side on camera so people can see what the lifestyle is “really like.” I swallow hard when I hear that one. Our first season doesn’t show what our lifestyle is “really like.” It shows us experiencing our worst train wreck as a family! – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
We’d hoped to show how most polygamist families were normal, good people. Instead, unforeseen challenges led us to be a poor example of our lifestyle, our culture, and our peers. – Drew (April’s Apology Regarding Season 1)
I personally believe that their sudden television exposure, with its accompanying change of living arrangements (all moving in together in the same house), was a HUGE stressor to their family that they would not have been exposed to otherwise. It is not uncommon for families to end up broken after large, traumatic life changes (one spouse gets a serious disease – even if they are later cured, a child dies, a child is born, career changes, becoming empty nesters, etc). It happens, and it is tragic.
What happened with the Briney family was a tragedy as well. I love them all and still and count them as friends. April has been to my house several times since then and Drew and the rest of his family are welcome to visit as well.
Having said all that, I want to thank TLC! I know that many people have expressed dismay that the Brineys did not come back, but not me. Personally, I am glad of it, and I think TLC made the right decision. I know that even the Brineys (Drew, Auralee, and Angela) wanted the story of their family breaking up to air, but things are probably better this way. I think it would have been bad for everyone (all the members of the Briney family and the larger plural community as well), to have to live their personal family drama thrice. Once as it happened; once again when it was edited, distilled to its most potent form, and aired on national TV; and again when dissected and criticized ad nauseam by all the insensitive onlookers on social media. How can that be good for anyone? What person or relationship could thrive under those circumstances? It would wither anyone.
I hope, now that the pressure and stress of being in the public eye is largely gone, that the Briney family can rest, recuperate, reflect, and put all the pain and drama behind them. Who knows, maybe they’ll even be back for a future season after taking a break for a while.
Forgetting is actually an important part of our mental function and mental health. Forgetting helps us to live our lives in relative peace and be able to focus on the present. Having old offenses repeatedly dug up and examined (which is what would have happened had the juicy story aired) will not help us to live abundantly in the now. Forgetting offenses is an important part of forgiveness. The scriptures testify repeatedly that God will not only forgive our sins, but also forget them. They will be blotted out. He will mention them to us no more!
God bless the Briney family.
See here for some ideas if you are interested in helping the Briney Family.
When I was a new missionary for the LDS Church, and living at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT (this was back in 1998), I had a Branch President that I quite admired. He was a very wise man. Here is one piece of universal wisdom which he gave, and which I have never forgotten (tho perhaps not always lived):
“The scriptures say that Sampson killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and every day at least that number of relationships are damaged with the same weapon… You don’t have to say everything that comes to your mind.”
Plural marriage puts you in impossible situations sometimes; situations where it is impossible to please everyone, or even most of the people. This is most often true for plural husbands. While the difficulties between the Briney women continued to play out in this most recent episode (Seeking Sister Wife, season 1, episode 6), I must say that I was pleased with the involvement that Drew displayed.
Furthermore, I have to offer an apology to Drew. In my last post I did not take into account the very likely truth that TLC is either behind much of the drama portrayed in their family, whipping it up to more than it need be, or else cleverly editing the video clips to show stern looks and eye rolls out of context, as well as leaving out parts of the story that wouldn’t fit the network’s vision for the show. Drew and all good plural husbands are much more involved in settling disputes, and counseling with their wives, than could ever be shown on television.
Extremely unfair. Those are the words I used to describe what I saw in the interaction between the Snowdens and their prospective wife, Joselyn, in this most recent episode (Seeking SisterWife, season 1, episode 5). I thought the way they treated her was in very poor form. The Snowdens talk a lot about doing things together – which is good, but if they are truly keen on family unity, then they ought to be including, as far as possible, the potential new family member. Otherwise, the new relationship is built with an imbalance from the beginning.
Ashley complains that Joselyn did not talk to her about being intimate with Dimitri, but I never saw Ashley initiate any conversations about it either!
And whose responsibility is it? If you invite someone to come play a game with you, and they accept the invitation, but only you know the rules, who should initiate a conversation about the rules of the game? Perhaps there is responsibility on both sides, but Ashley certainly has nothing to accuse Joselyn about in that area. Joselyn did not know the rules of the game. She was not privy to the conversations the Snowdens had without her. As far as she knew, she was playing by the rules – since Dimitri was the representative of the Snowden Family. The whole mess is tragic.
When they were at the restaurant, Dimitri completely threw Joselyn under the bus. What was she supposed to say? Again, she was not privy to the conversations had by the Snowdens about it. She did not know what Dimitri and Ashley had already talked about (or even if they had talked about it). Furthermore, Dimitri had apparently not talked to Joselyn about what happened on their date. The poor girl was thrown into the situation completely blind. How is she to know what to talk about? Again, she doesn’t even know if Dimitri has already talked to Ashley about their intimacy. Should that announcement come from Joselyn? Of course, she does not want to ruin what they have started by saying the wrong thing. She does not want to throw Dimitri under the bus. Unfortunately, the concern was not mutual. All during their very uncomfortable date, Joselyn keeps looking to Dimitri for cues.
She was looking for him to step up, to be a man, to lead the conversation, to help her know what to say, and what to talk about. And indeed, he should have stepped up, and opened a conversation about what happened. Instead, he just threw her away.
While there are obvious differences, I am reminded of the incident between Amnon and Tamar recorded in 2 Samuel 13 (NIV). Amnon burned with desire for Tamar. He allowed his desire to grow until he exercised it upon her by deception and force. When the deed was done,
Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”
“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”
But he refused to listen to her.
Now for the Brineys:
I love all the Brineys, my wives love them, and my children love their children. My family and I have interacted with them in person on several occasions, and it has always been a pleasant and rewarding experience. But honestly, I cringe when I see the Brineys’ interactions with one another on TV. No doubt, there have been glimmers of family unity and domestic felicity, but mostly it’s just been painful to watch.
I hesitate to comment about them at all; first, because they are my friends, and second because I know how difficult plural marriage can be. My own family has certainly had its share of internal discord. Nevertheless, I have been shocked and dismayed to witness how willing they’ve been to publicly criticize and belittle one another. I hope things are getting better for them, I hope their experience will ultimately be positive for their family. Every episode I watch just makes me so grateful that it is not my family’s life that is exposed to the public’s scrutiny! They are either very brave or very foolhardy – perhaps both.
Having said all that, I do not think it is a good policy to expect one wife to mediate the arguments between other bickering wives. That is the husband’s job. This is not a good family policy any more than sending a child to settle a dispute between other quarreling children. It will not, in general, improve the situation – very likely it will make it worse.
Settling disputes between children is a parent’s job. Sometimes children can settle their disputes on their own, and that’s always nice for a parent to see, and that is certainly ideal, but when the children can’t come to a resolution on their own, and the argument is dragging on and even escalating, the parent needs to intercede (see Mosiah 4:14-15).
It does seem like Drew is becoming more involved, at least in talking one-on-one with the wives about their problems, and that has been good to see. For the long-term good of their family relationships, I hope Drew can find a way to get even more involved and mediate the disputes a little more directly.